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Believers Are Not to Grumble

by Gil Rugh

When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he told them to “Do all things without grumbling or complaining” (Phil. 2:14). We, like the Philippians, are often quick to complain. If we allow ourselves the luxury, we can find something to complain about in almost every situation. We don’t like our job, or the people we work with, or the hours our neighbors keep, or the way our loved ones spend their money, and the list goes on. Complaining is almost second nature to most of us. But no matter how natural complaining may seem, it is totally unacceptable to God.

Complaining is a very serious matter in God’s eyes. Paul used the example of Israel in the wilderness to illustrate God’s attitude toward those who grumble: “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved” (1 Cor. 10:6). He continued, “Do not be idolaters” (v. 7), “nor let us act immorally” (v. 8), “nor grumble, as some of them did” (v. 10). Grumbling is listed along with the sins of idolatry and immorality!

“Well, grumbling is not a big deal,” some say. “It is not immorality or murder. Besides, did you ever know anyone who did not grumble?” They are saying that because we all grumble, it cannot be too bad. Wrong!

Paul wrote that some of the Israelites grumbled and were “destroyed by the destroyer” (v. 10). That tells you something about God’s attitude toward murmuring and grumbling.

One of Satan’s tricks is to get us to think lightly of sin. We often hear unbelievers say, “I am not perfect, but I don’t murder or do any of the really bad things.” Believers can also develop this light attitude toward sin, and the more the sin is practiced, the easier it is to accept or overlook. But we must learn to see sin the way God sees it.

Moses recorded the serious consequences of grumbling when God intervened in judgment against Korah and his family. Their sin was complaining that Moses and Aaron had higher positions than the rest of Israel, and God dealt with this sin harshly: “Then it came about as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah, with their possessions. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly” (Num. 16:31-33).

Amazingly, this judgment did not cause the complainers in Israel to realize how deeply God despised their grumbling. Instead of being awed at God’s judgment and stopping their grumbling, they blamed Moses and Aaron for what happened.

The Lord intervened again, sending a plague on the Israelites that killed 14,700 of them before Moses and Aaron interceded on the people’s behalf. These people died because of their grumbling, and more would have died if it wasn’t for the prudent actions of Moses and Aaron.

God continued his instruction about this sin: “But the Lord said to Moses, ‘Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they should not die”’ (17:10). The Israelites thought they were grumbling against Moses, but they were really grumbling against God. The same is true for us today. When we grumble and complain about our circumstances, we are not just grumbling about the weather, our neighbors, co-workers or family—we are grumbling against God Himself.

We are called to view sin as God does. God views complaining as a very serious sin—serious enough to warrant the punishment of death for the Israelites. As God’s children, we should endeavor to put aside complaining and instead thank God for His many blessings.